St Jude's Players
St Jude's Hall (Grundy Hall)
Until 24 Nov 2018

Review by Paige Mulholland

It’s heartwarming to see how the community of Adelaide’s south turns up in droves, wearing their best, bringing dinners and matching headpieces with them, to see St Jude’s productions. They applaud heartily and laugh with gusto (even when the show sometimes merited a different reaction) and obviously look forward to these productions every time. “The Man of La Mancha” was no exception, featuring an enthusiastic cast, crew and audience, although the choice of a show that has failed to move with the times was a problematic one.

“The Man of La Mancha” is a story-within-a-story – the misadventures of wannabe-knight, Alonso Quijano, told by playwright and poet Miguel de Cervantes, who is imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition and uses his creativity and performance skills to win over his fellow prisoners. He spins the tale of the Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote, who is actually the delusional Alonso Quijano, and his adventures on a quest for knighthood and glory.

On his quest, he mistakes a windmill for a four-armed giant, a seedy inn for a stately castle, and the serving wench and prostitute Aldonza for his lady fair Dulcinea. His delusions cause trouble across the board (including the brutal rape of Aldonza, the theft of all his possessions by gypsies and several brawls) but also give his companions hope for a better future with his unshakable optimism.

Although St Jude’s handles the first half of the show very well, they struggle to portray the more controversial elements of the show with sensitivity. A slapstick rape scene might have been acceptable when the musical was created in 1965 (although even then, it certainly would have been distressing for plenty of audience members) but in 2018, it’s obscene. As the scene has no dialogue, this could have been an opportunity to improve and update a very dated show, rather than mixing brutal rape and comedy. Even more offensive is seeing how some members of the audience laughed along with the spectacle as others watched in disbelief. Community theatre should bring people together, and in this case it drew a hard line in the sand.

Another divisive element was the portrayal of the Moorish Gypsies. The stereotypes in the original are once again dated and insensitive, but the nasal wailing and exoticized bellydancing in this version didn’t show any fresh interpretation or improvement.

The cast are well-rehearsed and transition well from their prisoner characters to their alter egos inside de Cervantes’ play. Vocally, Graham Loveday and Billie Turner are standouts as de Cervantes/Don Quixote and Aldonza/Dulcinea respectively. There are some issues with pitch across the board, but the cast consistently work well together and power on, despite prop mishaps and often a lack of space on stage.

Although it does take up a lot of stage space, the set is very well done, featuring retracting bridges and a balcony for the band. Costumes, too, are effective, immersive, and well-fitted.

“The Man of La Mancha” was another brave choice of show from a company who has made many bold choices in their almost-70-year history. In this case though, a little more bravery was needed – the bravery to make changes, question convention, and create a show that everyone could enjoy.